There are memorials scattered all around the University of Maine campus. At least two facilities, the Memorial Gymnasium and Memorial Union, were dedicated in honor of whole columns of UMaine students who fought for our country when we were at war. There are also smaller memorials for individuals and families; most are found as names of facilities. Then, in little quiet pockets around campus, there are the quiet memorials, like the one in a corner of the mall in honor of one of my classmates.
As far as I know, I never spoke to Michael Anthony Bruschini of East Norwich, New York. I am positive we were in the same room any number of times; we were both wore the Maine colors—he on the football team, I on the cross-country team—so the odds were good we were in Hauck Auditorium together during orientation for new Division I athletes. He lived in Hart Hall, and I lived in Hancock, so we may have even sat at the same long table for lunch or dinner at the old Wells Commons.
We might have sat together in one of the lecture halls in Beryl Williams Hall for an on-campus movie, we may have been in one of the search rooms studying at the same time at Fogler. I don’t know, but it’s pretty likely.
I remember coming back to campus after the winter break in January, though, with the front-page news on the Daily Maine Campus from January 16th, 1984 awaiting us: “Football player stabbed to death outside tavern.”
I remember it was a shocking story. Bruschini, a freshman linebacker on the football team, had gotten into a scuffle with another fellow outside of a nightclub early one morning in Oyster Bay, N.Y. The dispute turned violent, and after Bruschini knocked the other fellow to the ground, the guy got up, pulled out a belt knife, and plunged it into Bruschini’s chest.
At the funeral, more than a thousand people were in attendance, including UMaine head football coach Ron Rogerson and other athletic department personnel. Bruschini’s arrival at UMaine had been something of a recruiting coup; he had been a star linebacker at Oyster Bay High School and was projected to have a bright future at Maine.
Later in 1984, a memorial tablet was placed in that quiet corner of the mall by Hart Hall at the base of a freshly planted tree. It featured carvings of an electric guitar, football, and a football jersey with “51” in the middle of it—his University of Maine number. As time passed, though, memories of Mike Bruschini faded away from the front of UMaine conversations.
But not for me. Something about his life and death always stuck with me. Maybe it was because we were in the same class; maybe more so because we had both been promising first-year athletes who had had to learn to cope with injuries; minor setbacks, of course, on our parallel paths to glory.
If the purpose of a marker is to remind us about something—a traumatic event, a momentous one, a great person or just someone we don’t want to forget—a slab of granite is no guarantee of immortality. If it were, cemeteries would be crowded with folks drinking in the historic energy of the memorials there. As it is, sadly, once the immediate family of someone themselves move on, visitations to memorials become fantastically uncommon. Even the great memorials to battles and other major sacrifices mutely proclaim their irrelevance to our busy days.
Memorials, however, are more than just inscriptions in stone. For every first-year student at the University of Maine, they possess those golden opportunities to build a new life for themselves, and they do it almost unwittingly with other powerful young people at their elbows—their classmates, lab partners, teammates, roommates, and the thousands of others making their way into the future. When we lose one, as we sadly do from time to time, we really can’t forget what they have meant to our own journey, and what was lost with them.
We can only wonder what might have been for Mike Bruschini. Maybe he would have been a big star on the football team. Maybe, like me, injury would rob him of that dream—but it would be replaced by others. Maybe like me, he could have worked to make a difference in the world. Maybe he could have gotten married like me, and had a daughter like mine, who also would go on to graduate from the University of Maine.
Some of those undergraduate years were tough. I remember plenty of moments of doubt where I wasn’t sure where my future was going to take me, and I would try to sort it out with a late-night stroll around campus.
Forty years after that first fall semester at UMaine, I wonder what Mike Bruschini and I would have talked about if we had become friends. In an odd way, we sort of are—whenever I pause by his memorial marker by Hart Hall, he stays alive in my mind. I imagine meeting up with him some afternoon by his marker, just around sunset when the campus is quiet, and shaking his hand.
“Welcome back to the Class of 1987, Mike. We’ve missed you.”
Matt Dunlap ’87, ‘94G was a student athlete who earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in History and English. He later served in the Legislature and was elected seven times as Maine’s secretary of state. He is currently Maine’s state auditor and is a member of the University of Maine “M” Club board and the University of Maine Board of Visitors.